This week Jan Melia is CAP’s Community artist of the week – she answers our questions and offers us one of her poems
Can you recall your first artistic experience?
I did art in school but was no good at it and dropped it in the third year, I started writing poetry about that time,it was all angst and earnest really, though this has not changed that much! I never showed them to anyone and just worked away at them. I have met loads of people since then who don’t show their work, prolific writers that are fab and need to have their voices heard. A lot of the work I have done with CAP has allowed me to meet people like this at sessions. They come and read stuff for the first time and it can be really emotional and heart warming, I had a guy at a session in North Belfast a couple of years ago who was in his eighties and was reading poems from forty or fifty years ago. Great stuff I think artistic refers to an approach, a way of seeing things that shapes pretty much most of what you do.
What motivates you to continue with your artistic activities now?
Art has stuck with me because it is fastened in my perspective, but also because I have seen it change lives, because it challenges norms and because it can bring people of all shapes and sizes together on an equal footing. I like any art where I walk away thinking flipsake, where I have my perception changed, art that prompts me to think outside of my usual thought routine. I have done loads of work with people experiencing mental distress, using a wide range of art forms, I think art can change how you feel about the world.
How would you describe the work that you are doing now?
I have a project at the minute where I am using arts to engage people in research, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. We are collecting stories through workshops and are going to create projected images from them. The idea is to explore human geography using the arts. I am also developing an Opera with young people and creating an arts and science based projects as well and working with a recycling artist to create a word sculpture for a community garden.
Are there any barriers which stifle your ability to pursue your career in the arts?
Community arts is increasingly in demand but funding has become fairly hard to sustain- – lots of services have been cut leaving vulnerable people uncared for and isolated. Community arts is more than capable of supporting people and I think there is a need for more creative and collective responses to counteract limited funding.
You are a community artist – how did your activities in local communities come about?
People asked me about sorting out something arty for them! We meet talk about what they want, talk about what people need and then work in partnership to develop something that does what it says on the tin…! talking to people, working with partners, listening and involving people at all stages are the only ways to go.
Have you any experiences with Community Arts Partnership – if so could you say a little bit about them
CAP is one of my two favourite arts organisations on the planet.. and I am not just saying that.. It has a great ethos and has developed and sustained this over the last number of years. I have worked with CAP on and off since 2003 and in all that time it has created fantastic projects that work with people and develop quality art, I feel part of its process and feel valued by the organisation.. add to this the fact that I get to hear people make poems often for the first time.. and get to have a laugh with people… and what you have is pretty much perfect!! I remember working a school one time where there were non readers and non writers and we still made poetry.. you get to learn as an artist and are supported to do this..people with no previous experience get to be involved and try out poetry and CAP continues to learn and challenge itself..
Have you worked in areas of social and economic deprivation and if so any thoughts on the arts in those areas.
Access to the arts is a human right, everyone should have the chance to take part, experience the arts and enjoy them. Arts access should not be for the privileged few and barriers to access need to eradicated. I have worked in lots of working class communities and have seen first hand how changed people and communities have been by involvement in the arts. I think the arts can support people to engage, to overcome their isolation and fear and have a great time.. having a picture exhibited, having a poem printed this is the sort of stuff that impacts on people for good… it brings confidence and connection with other people… the arts allow people to have a voice sometimes for the first time ever..Everybody needs the arts, creating access and supporting artists from disadvantaged communities is vital to them and to the arts. The arts should not be the preserve of the wealthy and all art forms need to reflect wide ranging experiences, because that way more people connect with the arts. As an artist I have worked with people from diverse backgrounds and am glad to have had the chance, art is the great equaliser and everyone should have equal access to it…simple as that…
his small self listens, intent readiness ready
his big self neglects
the way he has made it
big little man
who will not be held the same way
I will miss his boy self
see it in his walk away
hear him laugh
he is unfamiliar
this is how it should be
she will hold him now
one soul holds another
gentle as a fly lifts
but known for all time